Valentine’s Day: Some Marry (in Secret) While Some Don’t Marry at All

“From Your Valentine”

    Valentine’s Day is said to be named after a young priest called Valentine.

During the third century, Emperor Claudius II—who believed that single men made better soldiers—banned marriages in Rome. Opposing the Emperor’s actions, Valentine performed secret marriages for couples. The Emperor eventually gained knowledge of Valentine’s secret operation and sentenced him to death. While imprisoned, Valentine wrote letters to the woman he loved; on  one occasion he wrote, “From your Valentine,” a phrase now commonly used by celebrators of the holiday today. Valentine was executed on February 14th, presumably around 270 AD. By 496 AD, Valentine had been declared a saint, and February 14th had been solidified by the Pope as the official day to honor the young priest who gave his life for love and marriage.

Romantic Fiction Inspired by Real Life?

This Valentine’s Day, we want to take a closer look at one of the world’s most renowned contributors to literature related to the topic of love and marriage: Jane Austen. Although Austen never married, many are interested in exploring the little details available on her personal romantic history. Utilizing remnants of letters she wrote to her sister Cassandra, some have theorized about Austen’s romantic past. Moreover, Austen’s letters imply that she had a flirtatious and romantic relationship with her neighbor’s nephew and soon to be lawyer, Tom Lefroy. Following their first meeting, Austen and Lefroy formed a friendly relationship and spent most of their free time together. However, Lefroy’s family saw their romantic involvement as impractical. As such, the young lovers were kept apart and prohibited from continuing their relationship. Some have wondered whether Austen’s relationship with Lefroy inspired Pride and Prejudice. The romantic implications of Lefroy and Austen relationship have been continuously debated since Cassandra mutilated key parts of Jane’s letters, leaving only vague information about their flirtatious relationship. Years later, Lefroy was asked whether he loved Jane. Lefroy admitted that he did in fact love her, but that it was simply a “boyish love.”

Around 1802, Jane Austen had another romantic experience that closely resembled that of her most iconic female character, Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. Austen received a proposal from a childhood family-friend, Mr. Bigg-Wither; she felt pressured to accept his offer because his financial stability would allow him to provide for her and her family. Like Elizabeth Bennett, Jane revoked her acceptance because she was indifferent towards Mr. Bigg-Wither. Jane Austen, similar to her female protagonists, refused the notion of a marriage built on status, money, and power. Instead, she desired a marriage based on true love. Even though she never married, Jane Austen’s literature illustrates her resistance against society’s expectations of women to only marry for social status. Her romantic novels will forever be acknowledged as some of the most classic and cherished love stories.

 

This Valentine’s Day, bewitch all the people you love by giving them one of our Jane Austen Valentine’s.

 

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Brenna Resnick and Sarvenaz Farzad, Women’s Museum of California Interns
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